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Sun Devil water polo opens 2009 season at Michigan Invitational

January 21, 2009

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The Arizona State University water polo team (0-0, 0-0 MPSF) opens its 2009 season on the road this weekend as the Sun Devils travel to Ann Arbor, Mich. for the Michigan Invitational on Saturday and Sunday. The Sun Devils play twice on Saturday, first taking on Colorado State at noon EST before meeting up with No. 14 CS Northridge at 5 p.m. The Devils then wrap up action on Sunday when they face off against Bucknell at 11:15 a.m.

The Michigan Invitational field is made up of nine teams and includes six teams ranked in the preseason Top 20. They are No. 3 UCLA, No. 5 California, No. 7 San Jose State, No. 8 Arizona State, No. 10 Michigan and No. 14 CS Northridge. The field also includes Bucknell, Colorado State and Indiana.

The Sun Devils are opening their season at the Michigan Invitational for the third time after doing so in 2004 and 2008. In 2004, ASU went 2-2 in Ann Arbor, defeating No. 14 UC San Diego and Marist while falling to No. 9 Indiana and No. 10 Michigan. Last season, the Sun Devils went 3-1 in the tournament, dropping the opener to No. 1 UCLA before going on to victories over No. 14 UC San Diego, No. 18 Michigan and Indiana.

Arizona State had the best season in program history in 2008, going 21-13 and 7-5 in MPSF play to set school records for the most overall and conference wins in the program's seven-year history. The Sun Devils also achieved the highest ranking in school history when they were fourth in the April 23, 2008 poll. They defeated three teams ranked in the top 5 in the nation, including getting the first wins in program history over USC and California. They also had multiple All-Americans for the first time, as Addison McGrath was a First-Team selection while Kelly Phelps and Caylinn Wallace earned Honorable Mention.

The Sun Devils will face at least 10 teams this season that are ranked in the preseason Top 20. Playing in the MPSF, the home of the top eight teams in the preseason poll, the Devils will host No. 2 Stanford, No. 3 UCLA and No. 7 San Jose State while going on the road to meet No. 1 USC, No. 4 Hawai'i, No. 5 California and No. 6 San Diego State this season in league play. They will also face the top two teams, USC and Stanford, at the Stanford Invitational on Feb. 7-8. Along with their conference foes, the Sun Devils will play No. 14 CS Northridge this weekend and on January 31 at the Cal Baptist Invitational, No. 18 CS Bakersfield at the Cal Baptist tournament and No. 12 Hartwick at the UC Irvine Mini-Tournament on February 1. In addition, ASU will also take on the top-ranked team in the preseason Division III poll, when they play at Pomona-Pitzer on March 13.

Arizona State received 13 points and was ranked seventh in the 2009 MPSF preseason women's water polo coaches' poll. USC received 48 points and six of the eight first-place votes to take the top spot, followed by Stanford and four-time defending national champion UCLA, who each got one first-place vote. Hawai'i, California and San Diego State followed, and San Jose State received the eighth position. In 2008, the Sun Devils finished tied for fifth in the MPSF regular season, their highest finish since joining the conference in 2004, and they placed 10th in the MPSF Championships.


The MPSF has a new look this season. Five schools - Cal State Northridge, Long Beach State, Pacific, UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara - have departed to form the Big West along with UC Davis. That leaves the MPSF with just eight teams, but they begin the season ranked as the top eight teams in the Preseason Varsity Top 20. The top three are USC, Stanford and UCLA, who have combined to win all eight NCAA Women's Water Polo championships. UCLA has six titles, including the last four straight, while Stanford and USC have each captured one national championship.

In its seven previous seasons, Arizona State is 2-5 in its season opener and 1-6 in its first neutral site game of the year, as the opener with Colorado State will be on Saturday. Last year, the Sun Devils fell to No. 1 UCLA 14-5 at the Michigan Invitational. It was their second consecutive season-opener against the nation's top-ranked team, as they lost to No. 1 USC 13-4 at the 2007 Stanford Invitational. ASU's last win in its season opener came in 2006 when they defeated No. 20 Cal Baptist 10-5. The Sun Devils have faced ranked opponents in five consecutive openers.

The 2009 Sun Devils have 21 players on the roster, including 10 that return from last year's squad. The returning players feature just one senior, Addison McGrath, four juniors in Jennifer Campo, Bonnie Miles, Kelly Phelps and Kari Walsh, and five sophomores in Lauren Hayes, Kaitlyn Morris, Candice Phillippe, Christy Stibbe and Nikki Unbehaun.

There are 11 newcomers on the team this season, including six international players. Dana Harvey, Bella Morrison, Sam Schubert and Lynlee Smith all come to Tempe from New Zealand, Mariam Salloum hails from Germany and Kelsey White arrives from South Africa. In addition, freshmen Aimee Bedell, Terra Debold, Kaileigh Esson, Stephanie Funston and Ashley Mercerau round out the Arizona State roster.

Mark Lawrence joins the Sun Devil coaching staff this season as the volunteer assistant coach. A three-year player in the Australian National League, Lawrence comes to Tempe after spending a year as the men's assistant head coach at Ohlone Junior College in Fremont, Calif., where he played from 1999-2001.

This will be the first meeting between the Sun Devils and the Colorado State Rams.

The Sun Devils lead the all-time series with the Matadors 7-4. The two teams played three times last season, with ASU prevailing in all three match-ups. They defeated the Matadors 12-4 at the UC Irvine Invitational, won 12-5 in Tempe in their regular season MPSF game, and then were victorious by a score of 10-8 in the first round of the MPSF Championships. The Matadors were part of the MPSF from 2005 to 2008, and the Sun Devils were 3-1 against them in MPSF regular season games, losing to CS Northridge in 2005 before winning each of the last three years.

Arizona State has played Bucknell just once, at the 2003 Princeton Invitational. The Sun Devils, who were in just their second year as an NCAA varsity team at that time, defeated the Bison 6-4, and they went 3-1 in the tournament overall.

For the first time in program history, ASU has two returning All-Americans on its roster in senior Addison McGrath and junior Kelly Phelps. McGrath scored 81 goals and collected 123 points in 2008 to earn First-Team honors, making her the first player in program history to be named a First-Team All-American. Phelps had 53 goals and 71 points to earn Honorable Mention.

McGrath has rewritten the Arizona State record books in her three years on campus. She set single-season school records with her 81 goals and 123 points last season, and in the process she became the school's career leader in both categories. She enters the 2009 season with 174 goals and 259 points, and she will look to extend her hold on both records this year. McGrath is also within striking distance of ASU's all-time assists record. She has 85 in her career, putting her in second place and just 34 behind Ashley Bower, who had 119 assists from 2004-2007. In addition, she has 105 career steals, placing her sixth on the school's career list in that category.

McGrath is not the only Sun Devil climbing the charts in the school's record books. Phelps enters the season seventh in Sun Devil history in both goals scored (78) and points (102), and she needs just 11 goals and 23 points to move into the top five in each category. In addition, junior Bonnie Miles begins the year sixth on the school's all-time list with 41 assists, leaving her just four behind fifth place and 12 behind fourth.

The Sun Devils will hit the road again next weekend to play in two one-day tournaments in California. On January 31, they will be in Riverside, Calif., for the Cal Baptist Invitational where they will play No. 18 CS Bakersfield at 11:30 a.m. and then face No. 14 CS Northridge for the second consecutive week at 3:30 p.m. The Devils will then head to Irvine, Calif., on February 1 and play No. 12 Hartwick at 9 a.m. at the UC Irvine Mini-Tournament.